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No child is left behind in Mozambique’s vaccination campaign

© UNICEF video
Abel and Leonel are being vaccinated against measles in the country’s biggest mass vaccination campaign, which aims to eradicate the disease.

Leave no child out – UNICEF supports orphans to participate in Mozambique’s vaccination campaign

Lionde, 7 September 2005 Clouds hang heavy over Mozambique’s Gaza province, as Abel and Leonel Vermão Tanganika get ready for a special trip. It’s a five-kilometre walk to the primary school in Lionde and what awaits the two orphaned brothers is a shot... in the arm. They are about to be vaccinated against measles, the most contagious viral infection.

“It’s time to go,” Abel tells his 62 year-old grandmother Carolina Sitoe, who is sitting in front of their simple house. Carolina and her grandsons know how important it is for 12 year-old Leonel and his 14 year-old brother to get vaccinated.

“Vukoxa told us that we need to be fully protected against this disease,” Leonel explains. Vukoxa supports elderly people like Carolina Sitoe, who care for the growing number of orphaned and vulnerable children in Gaza province. With support from UNICEF, Vukoxa ensures that the children have access to social services such as health and education.

About 200 children and their mothers are already waiting in front of the school in Lionde, when Abel and Leonel arrive. The two boys move along the queue for measles immunisation. Some babies cry as the needle is injected into their upper arm. Leonel tries to keep cool. But it’s not easy.

The southern provinces are the last to be covered by the vaccination campaign which will finally have covered the whole country - targeting some 8.7 million children. Babies and young children up to five years are immunised against polio, and those aged six to 59 months also receive Vitamin A supplements. The measles vaccination targets all children between nine months and 14 years. There will be a second round of polio immunization has already started in the northern provinces. The central and southern provinces will follow later in September and October.

The last campaign in 1998 / 1999 only targeted under fives in provincial and district capitals and had limited impact. Consequently the Mozambican Ministry of Health decided to include older children this time round.

In a country that has one of the highest child mortality rates of the world --   178 out of 1,000 children die before reaching five -- measles epidemics still occur regularly here. The last major epidemic was registered in the provinces of Tete and Sofala in 2002/2003.

This current campaign in Mozambique closes the last gap in Southern Africa’s efforts of organising catch-up campaigns involving also older children up to 14 years in order to effectively control measles. All neighbouring countries have already had similar campaigns, and are now organising follow up rounds. Mozambique is planning its follow up campaign in three to four years time from now.

It all started with Mozambique’s President Armando Guebuza kicking off a huge social mobilisation effort in April. In the following months more than 40,000 activists and health workers, religious groups and political parties, media from television to community radio, all reached out to even the most remote areas. Influential personalities such as Mozambique’s super athlete Maria de Lurdes Mutola used their popularity in TV spots and advertisements, appealing to parents and other caregivers to make sure that no child is left out.

NGOs like Vukoxa (“the elderly” in the local language Shangana) put out the word to the families they support. Most of the 400 children in their care have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. Gaza province is particularly hard hit by the epidemic with 19.9% of the population aged 15 to 49 living with the virus, compared to a national average of 16.2%.

“Yesterday our neighbour was buried,” Leonel replies when asked about what he knows about HIV/AIDS. “She had AIDS. Her husband already died before.” The women left a 16 year old girl 11 year old boy behind.  The two children are next on Vukoxa’s list to be visited. The NGO will assess the needs of the children, and try to find out whether they can stay with other relatives. If necessary, they will provide the children with clothes, school uniforms, bags, notebooks and pens.  

The regular visits that Vukoxa makes to Abel and Leonel mean a great deal to the small family. The boys have been living with their granny since their parents died in an accident twelve years ago. Their special day ends on a high note when they proudly present their vaccination cards with the photo of Lurdes Mutola to their grandmother. “She is a great runner,” Abel says with a big smile.







Video report on efforts to eradicate measles with a mass immunization campaign throughout the country.


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